Plus NTEU predicts Labor defeat but says it can beat the Libs on deregulation

Nothing to tweet about

A reader points to the feds’ Twitter account “the facts about higher education,” which has 311 followers. The last of its 14 tweets was back in February. Anybody still think the government’s heart is in another go at deregulation before the election?

ANU Sept 15

In the money

Thanks to the ever-vigilant Andrew Norton for pointing to the Department of Education’s release of 2014 university financial stats. The headline results are good enough to ensure critics argue institutions are rolling in dough and can afford (insert expenditure of choice here). The sector delivered an operating surplus just under $2bn, or 7 per cent – which sounds like a lot except for the cost of the new thingatron the dean of science wants and good lord, you can’t expect the VC’s flight to still include 727s.

Overall, red ink is rare, with the University of Canberra and the University of Tasmania recorded small operating deficits. And while Victoria University was $15m in the red this is said to be largely due to its VET division. Still, it’s a bit of a step from VU to the big end of town, where the University of Melbourne netted $182m from operating revenues of $2.1bn, now that’s a cashed up campus.

Hope I DECRA before I get old

There is much aggrieved agreement with UNSW physicist Adam Micolic’s analysis of new Australian Research Council grants, which concludes old blokes clean up (CMM November 3). ARC chair Aidan Byrne sees their point. “Comments that are circulating, particularly through some well-considered blogs, reflect an inherent tension in the funding system that on one hand needs to support up and coming researchers and on the other needs to provide sufficient resources to proven, established researchers to avoid boom and bust cycles in high-performing research groups,” ever-ready Aidan said last night.

But there is, Professor Byrne warns, “no right solution.” “If we create a system that provides more funding to up and coming researchers that will be at the detriment of funding those who have proven that they can and do undertake good and high-quality research that is delivering benefits to the nation.”

However he points out that carving out Discovery Early Career Research Awards from the Discovery Programme created 200 awards for young researchers (which in itself isn’t easy to define) as compared to 635 in the open to all DP pool. All up 28 per cent of grant winners “are new entries to the ARC system” close to the 30 per cent, which he says, “is acknowledged across the sector as a reasonable figure.” Perhaps not if you are in the 82 per cent of applicants who miss out.

ANU Sep 15 2

They should get out more

“15 days till the Australian Training Awards. The excitement is building here at the Department of Education & Training!” via Twitter yesterday.

NTEU’s take on Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull and his mates in the ministry are “potentially lethal,” for the union movement, National Tertiary Education Union General Secretary Grahame McCulloch warns members in the forthcoming issue of the union’s magazine.

And the PM is fatal for Labor under Bill Shorten, “who is sleepwalking his shadow ministry to defeat.”

The problem is, Mr Turnbull can “project social liberalism” but will “press for lower minimum industrial standards in awards and collective agreements.”

“We can expect a more professional and articulate advocacy of cuts to, and a greater role for markets in, many aspects of health, social welfare, public universities and colleges, and other forms of public service delivery.”

“There is an irony at work here, because at the same time the new Labor higher education policy (under Kim Carr) has disavowed Labor’s previous spending cuts with a commitment to at least 2.5 per cent increases in annual funding and a greater role for a re-vamped planning and performance commission,” Mr McCulloch suggests.

But the NTEU will not share Labor’s fate. “Despite the Liberal dominance, the power of public campaigning and opinion remains strong. It is clear that our campaign (together with problems in the private VET college market) has forced a new policy debate where planning, price caps and regulation are part of the discussion.”

“Our challenge is to organise in the workplace, in the parliament and in the wider public arena. … We have the power to check and eventually defeat these policies in the university sector and beyond,” Mr McCulloch says.

No, there is not a word about wage increases – perhaps Mr McCulloch wants the next round of enterprise bargaining to be a surprise for vice chancellors.

No marks for Uni Melbourne

The nominees for the 2015 Victorian International Education Awards are announced. Deakin, RMIT and Swinburne are the most nominated university names. Monash is competing in one category (excellence in universities) but Uni Melbourne not at all.

What VCs want

In Western Australia the government has long contemplated changes to university legislation in line with Margaret Seare’s 2013 report on the state government’s role in higher education (CMM March 24), which suggested changes to allow universities to develop property. Murdoch U in particular has long aspired to a major commercial development on surplus land. Now the state branch of the National Tertiary Education Union warns the WA government has imminent legislation, which will also include either reducing or eliminating staff and student representation on university bodies. The government has certainly been talking to university managements, which upsets union secretary Gabe Gooding. She says Education Minister Peter Collier has declined to meet the NTEU and that FOI requests for information on any proposed legislation are denied. However last night he told the ABC that the government was only providing universities with what they had asked for.

Another exit at Murdoch

Another resignation at Murdoch University with comms head Jane McNamara bailing this week. Short of doing media for the Syrian Government it is hard to see whatever she does next being harder than the mayhem at Murdoch where VCs and DVCs come and go (mainly go) and factions snipe at each other. There’s not much a minder can do with a house less divided than being demolished by the residents. Corporate PR veteran Anthony Fisk replaces her.

Say cheese

Erica Shulte and colleagues at the University of Michigan have identified foods which share properties with drugs of abuse and in one study cheese makes the top ten of addictive tucker. Really? Imagine trying to snort or smoke epoisses.

Early start

“With almost a third of our lives spent at work, it is crucial to our physical and mental health that is a positive experience,” the University of Western Australia Centre for Safety announces while promoting a breakfast lecture on workplace wellbeing next Tuesday. There is nothing positive about being lectured at breakfast, while already at work.

Yet more outrage at for-profit publisher

In the US the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (238 institutions and six million students) has sailed into the for-profit journal publishers.

“Scholars, librarians, and university administrators are committed to the free exchange of ideas and information and a growing number find that dissemination of knowledge is being significantly hampered. In a day and age when the public can get information from seemingly unlimited sources, the world of academic publishing has been more consolidated into a limited number of tightly controlled channels,” APLU president Peter McPherson says.

He bought into the argument after editors and the editorial board of linguistic journal Lingua resigned in protest at publisher RELX’s (formerly known as Reed Elsevier) pricing policies.